Behest of the West: Stop berating start educating

There is currently no reason for a tourist who has never seen a deer to refrain from slamming on their brakes and gawking at one.

My perfect two-year-old son bit one of my perfect six-month-old daughters over the weekend providing the perfect reminder that life with kids is as perplexing, frustrating and terrifying as it is fulfilling, inspiring and wonderful.

He bit beautiful little Crimson on the foot or, more accurately, her toe-toes. He didn’t do it out of malice. His parents, and his pop-pop, bite his toe-toes all the time and while those bites are actually kisses designed to tickle, he thought his bite would have the same smile-inducing effect. Berating a toddler for doing something they had no idea was wrong would be fruitless and lead to undeserved hurt feelings.

Toddlers, unfortunately, are not the only ones who bring these innocent yet frustrating moments into our lives.  Spring has sprung and a different sort of well-meaning, curious and adorable adventurer has started frustrating us by braking for wildlife on our highway and roads.

Before allowing your knuckles to glow white, consider how the tourist would have known not to stop.

There is currently no reason for a tourist who has never seen a deer to refrain from slamming on their brakes, parking in the middle of a Ucluelet road, and gawking at one. We have no signs telling them not to and many of them spent their vacation budget to come here specifically to experience our wildlife. Life with tourists is as perplexing, frustrating and terrifying as it is fulfilling, inspiring and wonderful.

Yelling rarely works. We need to stop shaking our fists and start bringing tourists up to speed on why they can’t slow to a crawl, or stop altogether, whenever they spot wildlife. The importance of providing this education goes far beyond commute times and road rage. By failing to educate tourists about the importance of honking and not staring at wildlife, we risk wildlife becoming habituated and habituation often leads to death. If you don’t honk already, start today.

We’ve done worse than just not honk. In 2013, CO Steve Ackles fined two people he had found feeding a bear near Kennedy Lake. When he told me about it, the frustration in his voice was deep.

“It’s the worst thing to do for the bear; it’s not fair,” he said. “I’m the guy that usually has to go put a bear down when it’s not the bear’s fault. It’s people being greedy, or whatever you’d call it; wanting to get that picture or spiritual experience by being close to an animal.”

The fine for feeding wildlife is $350; the price a food conditioned bear pays is much higher.  Conservation Officers hate shooting animals and it’s got to be frustrating for them when we fail to do the most basic things that could stop them from having to. Ackles expressed this frustration last year when he talked about a bear that had become conditioned to Ucluelet’s unsecured trash and would need to be put down.

“A wild bear doesn’t just show up in town and start breaking into sheds for garbage,” he told me. “It’s a learned behaviour and it’s due to having gotten rewards out of garbage cans.”

Mother Nature is not our angel of the morning. She is our life partner and our rock. Terrible things happen when we don’t respect her. Let’s put our garbage away and then put our efforts into educating everyone around us.

It’s not an easy education to deliver. We proved that ourselves by doing nothing about our deer. Back in 2012, then a resource management and public safety specialist with Parks Canada, Danielle Thompson begged us to make deer feel uncomfortable in Ucluelet.

“We need to make that mental leap and understand that the deer in our backyards are attracting large predators into our backyards,” she told me back then. “We’re not threatened by deer but we really should be because the predators follow them…By being tolerant to deer, we’re sending a positive signal to wolves and cougars that there’s a really good food source here.”

She urged us to throw rocks, bang pots and honk our horns at deer. We didn’t and we wound up with a cougar problem last year. We still tolerate deer but not the predators they bring in, those get shot.

We need to put up signs in town that tell tourists they can’t stop and gawk. We need to urge tourists, our neighbours and ourselves to honk, shout and just generally be jerks to the wildlife we see so that animals stop feeling so comfortable hanging around town. We need to secure our garbage and stop causing the animals around us to get shot. We need to stop berating and start educating.

 

Andrew Bailey is the editor of the Westerly News. You can find his weekly column ‘Behest of the West’ on page 4 of our print edition every Wednesday.